Henry Ford Unveils Device to Avoid Painful Liver Biopsies


Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit is the first in Michigan to use an ultrasound device that can help patients with liver disease avoid invasive biopsies.

Designed for patients with chronic hepatitis C and B, fatty liver diseases, and other hepatic disorders, the new device, called FibroScan, replaces repeated and often painful liver biopsies with a procedure similar to familiar ultrasound tests used to track pregnancy and diagnose internal diseases.

“FibroScan is designed to measure liver fibrosis using a painless, non-invasive method of assessing many of the same conditions measured with biopsy,” says Dr. Stuart Gordon, director of hepatology at Henry Ford Hospital. “It’s an outpatient procedure taking less than 15 minutes.”

By one estimate, more than 30,000 liver biopsies are performed in the U.S. each year, a number hospital officials say led to medical discussions and calls for ways to make the procedure more “acceptable” to patients.

In most cases, a liver biopsy involves using a needle, inserted through the skin and underlying tissue and into the liver, to collect a sample of tissue. It’s widely regarded as safe, but because it is invasive, it carries risks ranging from bleeding to rare instances of death. In addition, a proportion of liver biopsy patients complain of severe pain during the procedure.

Using FibroScan — which first entered the European market in 2003, but received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April — an ultrasound sensor produces vibrations that create a low-frequency seismic wave between the ribs and into the liver. The speed of the wave as it passes through the liver is used to determine the hardness or stiffness of the organ — the faster the wave, the harder the tissue. As a result, the device can provide immediate results on the presence and severity of liver fibrosis.

In other Henry Ford news, the hospital unveiled a second mobile clinic for its Children’s Health Project of Detroit. The clinics bring health care services to children in the city’s most disadvantage neighborhoods. The new clinic, nicknamed Clara, after Henry Ford’s wife (the first clinic is nicknamed Hank), has the capacity to double the current level of service to 2,000 annual medical visits.